International Broadcasting Bureau – Just Call Us “Waste Unlimited!” – Information War Lost: Thumbs Down On “All Hands”
By The Federalist
The magic hour in the Cohen Building appears to be 2:00pm. That’s often the time senior agency officials of the Voice of America (VOA) and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) conduct one of their “all hands” staff meetings with agency employees.
The latest episode took place on Thursday, May 29, 2014, featuring David Ensor, the VOA director, and others.
Before reviewing portions of this event, it is important to note the following:
This is a failed agency.
What takes place inside the agency, every day, in ways large and small, contributes to, enables and perpetuates the agency’s established reputation for being dysfunctional and defunct.
These staff meetings are part of this environment. It is a rather cheesy demonstration of senior agency officials talking at agency employees. And that talk generally amounts to examples of maintaining the status quo.
With the horrid record this agency has established, any meaningful effort to salvage US Government international broadcasting must come from outside the four walls of the Cohen Building.
To understand how far and how badly this agency has fallen, one should read the text of the fully bipartisan H.R. 4490, legislation unanimously passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It’s all there, as are the actions the legislation intends as necessary to rehabilitate the agency, eliminate internal bureaucratic and operational decay and reestablish its credibility.
In its effect, the bipartisan legislation recognizes that the agency is awash in a culture of incompetence and waste which has seriously compromised the agency’s mission effectiveness. These exact words may not be there, but there is no missing the intent of what the legislation intends to deal with.
This legislation is necessary and correct. It is in the national and public interest that the legislation be signed into law.
David Ensor, Front and Center
Those who watched Mr. Ensor’s presentation of May 29 called it pretty sad: describing Mr. Ensor as clumsy, distracted, and rambling to what appeared to be an auditorium more empty than full.
No one should be surprised, with the label Dysfunctional and Defunct hanging over him and all the other current residents of the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
As things in Washington go, this label will follow these officials as their careers go begging. No one in this city likes to get tagged with a failure and the failure of this agency is stupendous. It’s part of their resumes. They’ve worked hard at it and promoted it, long after it was obvious that what they were foisting on the American taxpayer was costly and ineffective in dealing with global realities.
No Comment – Sort Of
One of the things clearly on Mr. Ensor’s mind is H.R. 4490.
Mr. Ensor made it a point to note that it would not be appropriate to comment on the legislation at this time.
But in effect, he did. Everyone watching or attending the staff meeting could see the legislation is indelibly stamped on everyone’s mind on the Third Floor if not all over the Cohen Building.
You can be assured that most agency officials wish the legislation would go away and that they be allowed to do anything they want with no accountability to anyone, while being nothing more than a collection of bureaucrats taking almost $800-MILLION dollars from American taxpayers’ wallets annually.
You can also be certain that should the legislation be signed into law, these same self-aggrandizing individuals will try to stall, delay and otherwise obstruct its implementation.
Mr. Ensor may not wish to comment on H.R. 4490 – but we will.
H.R. 4490 represents many things, among them is the agency’s last chance to redeem itself. If it fails – and some senior VOA/IBB officials and some VOA Newsroom people want it to fail – this agency will be gone. It will have ceased to be of value to the national and public interest of the United States.
Senior agency officials have put the agency on the brink of strategic oblivion. With the cumulative damage to the agency’s mission to this point, it won’t take much to push it right over the edge.
A Name, Any Name
Mr. Ensor let it be known that some senior people are leaving, but didn’t offer up any names. This will provide employees with an opportunity for endless speculation as to who is making an exit, in what order, etc.
The truth of the matter is the entire Third Floor bureaucracy needs to be sent packing: the people who planned this strategic failure, the people who carried it out, who have made the agency one of the worst organizations in the Federal Government and not surprisingly one of the worst places to work, the same people who received bonuses – bonuses on top of six-figure salaries – for making the agency the disaster it has become.
Mr. Ensor also indulged in what may be called a Third Floor “praise-a-thon” not long after a horrid VOA video for Pakistan surfaced portraying “Uncle Sam” (the United States) as a bloodthirsty zombie.
Similarly, he praised the “interim management team,” which in our view hasn’t made much of an impact on a pervasively corrupt management system – as one might surmise since it is part of the underlying management status quo.
Mr. Ensor brought someone up to the microphone to talk about a new plan to have one company handle the agency’s contractor hiring.
One should note that the agency created yet another fiasco by having 660 contractors when, by regulation, it was limited to 60. In effect, these contractors are full-time, permanent employees – according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). As a result, the agency is in a bad place in terms of withholding and other tax-related issues. And of course, if the agency were forced to release the contractors over the 60 number limit, it would probably put this dysfunctional and defunct agency out of business.
That Hackneyed Numbers Game
Mr. Ensor claims that 70% of the agency’s (VOA) audience comes from “affiliates.”
Same old, same old.
There are two things wrong here:
First, these stations are not affiliated with the US Government. They are foreign broadcast stations who enter into placement agreements to carry agency programs, often only non-news programs, such as music or English lessons, or a short report from time to time on a topic usually of their choosing. This has been and always will be a dicey proposition.
These stations can and have been shut down by foreign governments, particularly if the programming goes “off the script.” They often choose not to rebroadcast programs that might be too risky for them. They dictate to VOA what kind of content they will accept and what kind of content they will reject. This leads to self-censorship at VOA and such productions as zombie videos for Pakistan. Many foreign governments have in fact passed laws forbidding rebroadcasting live news from a foreign news organization like VOA.
These stations can also edit edit VOA programs in such a way that they may not be seen or heard as VOA-originated content. We know how this game is played. Rebroadcasting may work here and there, but it is highly unreliable in many countries, especially in those that count the most.
It isn’t rocket science and is simply a matter of conventional editing techniques or misrepresenting the VOA content as being station-originated and passing off VOA employees as working for the station. VOA and IBB do not regularly check what is rebroadcast and what may not be rebroadcast. They have no idea whether even some of their imperfect affiliate agreements are in fact being honored.
Second, the agency is notorious for purloining a station’s aggregate audience demographics and claiming it as its own. You will note that in the agency’s “research briefings,” it almost never cites numbers as to who is listening to, watching or reading specific VOA news program material in a particular country, be it Nigeria, Vietnam or elsewhere. VOA may be claiming also an audience of millions in Mexico, which is not exactly a country without free media and other access to U.S. news.
That’s how VOA affiliate audience numbers are pumped up. But what VOA cannot change or ignore are dismally low Facebook “Likes” and Twitter retweets for many of its news reports compared to social media engagement numbers for stations such as Al Jazeera, BBC or Russia’s RT.
In many cases, IBB and VOA also pay for placement of programs that have very little connection to VOA’s mission and the VOA Charter with its clear focus on news and reporting on U.S. policies, especially to countries that practice media censorship.
In short, a number often used by Mr. Ensor as a worldwide audience of 164-million, may in fact by substantially less. And if that were to be correct, the future of VOA may be very short-lived.
An Astute Observation
One agency language service employee nailed Mr. Ensor with the observation that he comes before the staff and says the same thing over and over.
This appears to have been a reaction to Ensor’s remark that, “the quality of management has improved a little.”
Memo to Mr. Ensor: There isn’t enough time left to this agency for its management quality to improve “a little.” Like we have said before, in this agency quality management improvement is like watching a glacier recede, one tiny trickle at a time.
Remember how senior agency officials describe “progress:”
That’s not progress. It’s recidivism.
It is deliberate and intentional.
And senior agency officials want it that way.
One of the things one learns from these staff meetings is that they essentially repeat the same themes over and over again, long after they have ceased being worthy or credible.
They have become predictable – which is what we would expect from an agency that is –
Dysfunctional and Defunct.